Today, in the US, it is Election Day.
We anticipate with great trepidation to see who will govern this country in the next four years. The year has been a particularly stressful one, one in which the importance of who leads has become all too apparent.
This year we also celebrate the 80th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin’s highest grossing film, The Great Dictator. It was directed, produced, scored by, and starred Charlie Chaplin. It would be his first true “talkie.” Chaplin played a dual role in this cracked version of the The Prince and The Pauper: an evil dictator named Adenoid Hnkel and the persecuted Jewish barber.
Chaplin has been inspired to make this film while watching Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, which he found uproariously funny. Thus became a grand tradition continuing with Mel Brooks and Jerry Zucker and Quentin Tarantino and continuing even to this day with Jojo Rabbit: transforming Hitler from a figure to be feared or legitimized into history’s clown.
Both Hitler and Chaplin being famous for that tiny mustache helped out a lot.
It should be noted that the movie came out over a year before the US would officially enter WWII. Germany and the US were technically at peace. Yet the situation in Europe was becoming more and more apparent. Chaplin had based the situation on stories he heard from his Jewish friends who were suffering persecution in Europe. He didn’t know about the true extent of the concentration camps though. Later in life he recalled that if he had known about the camps, he probably would not have made the film.
It ends with a message of hope. After imploring everyone — and the audience — to embrace tolerance, Chaplin concludes: ‘The Soul of Man has been given wings, and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow, into the light of hope, into the future, the glorious future that belings to you, to me, and to all of us.”
Is this a little naive to our modern eyes? Especially after all we’ve gone through in 2020? Perhaps. That But Chaplin was speaking directly to people who had gone through a Great Depression, who were at that time suffering persecution, and who were seeing their very homes bombed every day. If anyone deserved to be cynical, it was the audience in 1940. And The Great Dictator was just what they needed.
Today’s bonus prompt: what is the best political satire in film?
Next week: fictional worlds